I was delighted when, on Mother’s Day, my eldest daughter presented me with ‘Living Dolls: the return of sexism’ by Natasha Walters. For some unexplainable reason, definitely not due to my mother’s influence or from my peers in the area I have lived for most of my life, I am completely invested in equality. Not that I am completely equal, a social injustice that rankles me daily.
Several books detailing how the feminist project has failed and that, in fact, women are not equal are emerging now. I personally feel that this is a positive development for, as I look around at everyday people, it is clear that there is a power imbalance.
Of course, there are the surface inequalities of non-equal pay, household roles and rape statistics in the top layer of feminism. These alone are enough to stop any thinking woman in her tracks and make her realise that she has and is still being duped into a false sense of security. But the river runs much deeper.
I have interviewed many women on the subject of feminism and whilst there is an implicit desire for fairness, usually at a level of desperation over money or personal safety, lots of women said that they like doors opened for them being looked after and the positioning of ownership in relationship roles, citing biological nature as the ‘natural’ position. Unfortunately this is completely missing the point as we are all living in society whether we like it or not.
If a woman happily gives herself over to any role without being oppressed into it, or oppressed into staying there, then that’s fantastic? It is totally her choice? Or is it, and does she really know if she is being oppressed? For example, if a woman gives herself over to prostitution enthusiastically and knowing that she will never be oppressed by any power dynamic in society, even though this can never be the case, is that OK? Or if a woman stays in an abusive relationship because she is married or financially dependant? Two common everyday scenarios for women all over the world. I can honestly say that in my extensive research I have never met a prostitute or abused woman who is happy.
Which brings us to the real point: oppression. Those women free enough to make the choice as to whether they would like a door opened for them, that being their only concern about equality, are intentionally covering for the oppression, implicit or explicit of millions of truly oppressed women with lip service excuses. What about the truly oppressed?
Those trapped in domestic violence with no real way out. Those trapped in the sex industry, telling themselves that they are dancing naked in a cage for less than minimum wage of their own free will. Those standing in front of a camera in the name of fashion. Those working in brothels and sleeping with 10+ men per night. Those ‘working from home’ who’s earning are not proportionate to the time they put in. Those two women per week who die at the hand of a current or former partner and the one in four women who will experience male-perpetrated violence during their lifetime. Those dressing their daughters like mini-women therefore sexualising a child. Those women who seek fame at the cost of their authenticity and to feed the power of others. Those women starving themselves and suffering to look like a perceived norm.
These women exist throughout society and are the middle layer of feminism. The deeper layer is the admission and acknowledgement that patriarchal and misogynistic power dynamics are still operating in society. There is rarely a two dimensional visibility to oppression. It inevitably involves a third dynamic that in implicit in the action of ‘choice’. You might think you are choosing to be un-equal and liking it, but do you really know what is implicitly influencing that choice? Especially if your oppressed situation has prevented you from acquiring knowledge? I would wager that there are other life situations influencing this that are tied up with money, sex, status, fear and probably all of them.
So next time someone tell you that feminism is rubbish and the property of bitter women, please remember those women in desperate situations who cannot just ‘walk away’ because they are so deprived of power that they do not know how to. Or they are so oppressed by fear that an invisible chain is holding them. It’s up to the women who do know the difference, those who understand what oppression is yet have enough power to choose their own lived, it is up to us to show an example, defend feminism and challenge the world. Feminism isn’t the hate of individual men, or the quest for women to be equal to men. They already are. It’s the challenge to the social dynamic of patriarchy.
There will always be women, even thinking women, who are trapped within the implicit patriarchal world, but before you defend your oppression as choice, think about those who are truly oppressed, think about the things that might be impacting your life that you don’t know about and read ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir. Then come back to this blog and tell me how you think things have really changed since that book was written.